Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cambodia in Pictures

A Cambodian boy holds burned incense sticks during the festival of the dead at a Buddhist temple on Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The festival, also known as the Pchum Ben festival, commemorates the spirits of the dead and almost every Cambodian takes part by visiting temples.

Cambodians offer food to celebrate the festival of the dead at a Buddhist temple on Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The festival, also known as the Pchum Ben festival, commemorates the spirits of the dead and almost every Cambodian takes part by visiting temples.

Cambodians cross the Tonle Sap river by ferry along a Chinese-funded bridge under construction at Prek Kdam village, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 14, 2009.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, greets villagers during his inspection of the construction site of a Chinese-funded bridge at Prek Kdam village, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 14, 2009.

Cambodian women pray in front of food and candles during the first day of the Pchum Ben festival at a pagoda in Phnom Penh on September 5, 2009. The Pchum Ben festival is a popular religious holiday in Cambodia which consists of 15 days of prayer honouring the ancestors, visits to the temple and the cooking of food for monks.

A Cambodian woman prays in front of food and candles during the first day of the Pchum Ben festival at a pagoda in Phnom Penh on September 5, 2009. The Pchum Ben festival is a popular religious holiday in Cambodia which consists of 15 days of prayer honouring the ancestors, visits to the temple and the cooking of food for monks

Tuol Sleng prison survivors and Cambodian civil party members observe a mass grave at the Choeung Ek fields memorial in Phnom Penh on August 31, 2009. The UN-backed war crimes tribunal into the Khmer Rouge's main jail chief Duch, actual name Kaing Guek Eav, was boycotted by a group of 28 civil parties who are angry with judges for ruling last week to ban them and their lawyers from questioning Duch about his personality in the forthcoming hearings

Cambodian women leave offering of food during the first day of the Pchum Ben festival at a pagoda in Phnom Penh on September 5, 2009. The Pchum Ben festival is a popular religious holiday in Cambodia which consists of 15 days of prayer honouring the ancestors, visits to the temple and the cooking of food for monks.

A Cambodian scavenger carries recycle materials that she collected along a street in Phnom Penh on September 15, 2009. Scavenging for bits of plastic, metal and glass that earn them an average 10 dollars a month, the children of Phnom Penh's municipal rubbish dump are among Cambodia's poorest.

Governments accused of negligence over Preah Vihear dispute

BANGKOK, Sept 16 (TNA) - An activist on Wednesday petitioned the anti-graft agency accusing both the previous and the present governments of negligence of duty for allowing foreign intrusion to occur in the disputed area near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

A group of activists led by Veera Somkwamkid, chairman of the People's Rights and Liberty Protection Group, filed a petition against all governments since the Chavalit Yongchaiyut administration to the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The petition asked the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) to investigate the charges and to take legal action against state officials found guilty for malfeasance or negligence of duty which caused damage to the state.

The petitioners accuse the previous and incumbent governments for not only failing to push Cambodian forces out of the area which they claim belongs to Thailand, but also accuse the successive governments of allowing foreign forces to occupy the area adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple--nearly 3,000 rai (1,200 acres)--since 1998.

They submit more than 10 documents and other evidence to back their claim.

In related developments, Lt-Gen Vissanu Sriyaphan, spokesman for the Royal Thai Armed Forces, reaffirmed that Thailand has not lost territory to Cambodia, but warned a group of people led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who plan to carry their protest to the disputed 4.6 square kilometer-area on Saturday that they would be at their own possible risk from uncleared landmines.

"Thailand has not lost territory as understood by some people,” Gen Vissanu said, “but the pending problems is being solved through negotiations not violence. Therefore the ownership of the overlapping area has yet to be decided."

Meanwhile, the armed forces also issued a statement reaffirming that Thailand has not lost its sovereignty over the area and submitted a protest letter over the settlement of some Cambodians in the area.

Negotiations to relocate the settlements could be launched once Parliament endorses the result of the Joint Border Committee meeting. Any move by some Thais to push the Cambodian settlement out of the area would only complicate efforts to solve the problem in the long term, the statement said. (TNA)

Flash floods kill seven Cambodians

September 16, 2009

Seven Cambodians have died in flash floods after days of torrential rains inundated hundreds of homes and damaged many rice paddies, a government report says.

Rains that started on September 4 hit five provinces and a total of seven people, including three children, drowned in the deluge, according to the report released by the National Committee for Disaster Management on Wednesday.

The rains flooded 1,409 houses and nearly 29,000ha of rice were affected and damaged, the report said.

Officials said the floods, which also destroyed some infrastructure, had subsided

200 police deployed near P. Vihear

Published: 16/09/2009

Police Region 3 commander Pol Lt-Gen Krisda Phankongchuen said on Wednesday he had 200 police deployed from Si Sa Ket and nearby provinces to the area near the Preah Vihear temple to deal with the planned rally by yellow-shirt demonstrators.

Supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) from various provinces, particularly those in the Northeast, plan to rally against the Cambodian government on Saturday. They claim Phnom Penh has sent traders and settlers to occupy Thai territory near the ancient Khmer temple.

“The policemen will join with the military force stationed in the area to prevent the demonstrators going into the 4.6 square kilometres of disputed land along the Thai-Cambodia border,” Pol Lt Gen Krisda said.

The policemen were ordered not to carry weapons and prohibited from using force to deal with yellow-shirts.

Police in eight northeastern provinces under the supervision of Police Region 3 were ordered to be ready to provide reinforcements if required.

PAD: Govts 'neglected Preah Vihear'

Published: 16/09/2009

The People's Alliance for Democracy on Wednesday petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), accusing past and present governments of negligence of duty in allowing Cambodia to encroach on a disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple.

The PAD, represented by Veera Somkwamkid, chairman of the People's Rights and Liberty Protection Group, and about 30 members of the alliance, asked the NACC to investigate past governments, beginning with the Chavalit Yongchaiyudh in 1998 to the present administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The petition said they allowed Cambodian troops and people to encroach on an area of over 3,000 rai around the Preah Vihear temple.

The petition was supported by about 10 items of evidence allegedly showing that Thai territory had been intruded on since 1998, and that Thailand had lost sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The past and present governments had not only failed to push out the intruders but also allowed them to build houses and shops and clear forest to build roads inside the disputed area. The number of Cambodian soldiers and people in the area had considerably increased, particularly during the administrations of Gen Surayud Chulanont and Mr Abhisit, the petition alleged.

Commanders of the army and the 2nd Army Area as well as the past and present governments since 1998 had committed malfeasance, causing damage to the state and the people in violation of Article 157 of the Criminal Code, the petitioners claimed.

The PAD plans a rally on Saturday near the disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple, to demand the government push the alleged intruders out of the disputed area.

2nd GMS Economic Corridors Forum opens in Cambodia

Photo by DAP


PHNOM PENH, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- The second GMS (Greater Mekong sub-Region) Economic Corridor Forum opened here on Wednesday, aiming to strengthen the coordination and cooperation among the six countries along the Mekong River and speed up the development of the sub-region economic corridors.

The two-day Forum include a Governor's Forum and an Economic Corridors Forum. More than one hundred senior government officials attended the meeting.

The theme of the Forum is "GMS Economic Corridors: Pathways to an Integrated, Harmonious and Prosperous Sub-region." It will focus on strengthening the platform for coordination and networking among sectors and groups involved in GMS economic corridor development and drawing attention to issues and concerns affecting economic corridor development, and to discuss strategies and measures to accelerate such development.

At the same time, all side will talk about expanding the support of provincial and local authorities to GMS economic corridor development and promote cooperation in addressing cross-border issues and increasing the participation of the private sector and promote public-private partnership in GMS economic corridor development.

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) comprises China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Initiated by the ADB, the GMS was founded in 1992 to boost economic growth and reduce poverty in the countries along the Mekong, Southeast Asia's longest river. The region is home to 280 million people, most of whom rely on agriculture and fishing.

The region boasts three road corridors: the north-south road between Kunming, Bangkok and Hanoi; the route from Da Nang in Vietnam and Mawlamyine in Myanmar through Cambodia and Laos; and the route connecting Bangkok and the cities in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The first GMS Economic Corridors Forum was held in Kunming in June last year after it was proposed by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the third GMS Summit in Laos.

Editor: Mo Hong'e

War-weary Asian nations offer new treats for tourists

Two years after the end of Nepal's brutal civil war, more tourists than ever visited the Himalayan country in 2008

Decades of civil strife ended in 1998, and tourism is now one of the few sources of foreign exchange for Cambodia

In 1988 more than 700,000 tourists visited Kashmir, but the number declined sharply as the insurgency intensified

The first Bali bombings in 2002 cut foreign tourist arrivals to the island by 70%

Sri Lanka's visitors numbers had dropped as decades of war tormented the teardrop-shaped tropical island

By Mel Gunasekera (AFP)

MIRISSA, Sri Lanka — Tempting tourists back when the bombing stops is never easy, but war-weary Asian countries are planning new treats for travellers in a bid to cash in on a "peace dividend".

Governments are scrambling to replace images of conflict with offers of dream holidays, from whale-watching in Sri Lanka to leisurely treks in Nepal, meditation in Bali and golf in Cambodia.

Sri Lanka's golden beaches, along with tea plantations and ancient religious sites, had long attracted visitors -- but numbers dropped as decades of war tormented the teardrop-shaped tropical island.

When government forces claimed victory against Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in May, tourism chiefs set to work, launching a campaign entitled "Sri Lanka: Small Miracle", to polish its post-war image.

One of the new activities designed to sell the country as a diverse destination is whale watching, focused on the giant mammals frequenting the island's shores between December and April.

British marine biologist Charles Anderson says the numbers of blue and sperm whales and their proximity to shore make the island a natural lure for the growing numbers of eco-tourists.

"Sri Lanka has enormous potential to be a whale destination," said the Maldives-based Anderson, who has been studying Indian Ocean whales for 25 years.

Dileep Mudadeniya, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau's managing director, estimates the promotional campaign will help raise tourist arrivals by at least 20 percent to 500,000 visitors in 2010.

"We have an image that has been challenged by war and travel advisories. Now the war is over. There is lot of interest in us and we will see an upswing by November," Mudadeniya told AFP.

Another country recently freed from the grip of conflict, Nepal, is also hoping that peace will bring back the tourists and is looking to tempt them with a new "Himalayan Trail" running the length of the country.

The number of tourists travelling to Nepal slumped during a 10-year civil war between the army and Maoist rebels which ended in 2006.

But last year a record 550,000 people visited the Himalayan state after foreign governments relaxed their travel warnings.

Tourism authorities say they hope to attract a million visitors by 2011 and are focusing on some of the less developed areas of the country, where few foreigners have ventured.

"We are banking on the peace dividend," said Aditya Baral, director of the Nepal Tourism Board.

"There are lots of unexplored areas in western and eastern Nepal and this time we are trying our best to encourage people to visit those areas where very few people have travelled."

One plan -- still in its early stages -- involves creating a "Himalayan Trail", taking trekkers to some of the remotest parts of the country.

The trail would link paths already used by local people to transport goods and livestock, and would take three months to complete -- with most visitors expected to walk it in stages.

Even intermittent violence can ruin a country's tourist trade, as the Indonesian resort island of Bali learnt to its cost after Islamic militant bomb attacks in 2002 and 2005 killed a total of some 220 people.

The first Bali bombings cut foreign tourist arrivals to the island by 70 percent -- and they took years to return.

Bali Tourism Board secretary general Anak Agung Suryawan Wiranatha said the island had marketed itself as a haven of peace to counter the negative consequences of the bombings.

"Now we promote Bali as a peaceful and spiritual destination. We promote yoga and meditation on the island," Wiranatha said.

"Now health tourism and spas are booming. They are the favorites of tourists from Japan and Korea."

But it is not easy to rebuild tourism in a country that has seen sustained violence, like Cambodia, where up to two million people died under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

Decades of civil strife ended in 1998, and tourism is now one of the few sources of foreign exchange for the impoverished southeast Asian nation.

Even though Cambodia now lures more than two million foreign visitors a year, most stay only briefly to see the ancient World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat temple complex.

"We need time to (change our image)," Ho Vandy, co-chair of Cambodia's tourism working group told AFP.

The government last year launched an international "Kingdom of Wonder" campaign promoting the country's beaches, eco-tourism and culture.

More than 20 islands have been designated for development, Vandy said, while a new airport in seaside Sihanoukville is expected to open later this year.

Other plans include a game park for well-heeled hunters in the remote jungle-covered northern Ratanakiri province and several luxury golf courses around the country.

Nothing illustrates the cost of violence and the value of peace in the Asian region quite as clearly as the contrasting situations in Pakistan's Swat valley and Indian Kashmir.

Tourists are returning to Kashmir, once described by a 17th-century visiting emperor as a "paradise on earth", as militant violence in the Muslim-majority region subsides to its lowest level since 1989.

In 1988 more than 700,000 tourists visited Kashmir, but the number declined sharply as the insurgency intensified. Now the tide appears to be turning again, with more than 380,000 visiting in the first seven months of 2009.

Not far away, Pakistan's Swat valley was the jewel of the country's tourism crown and known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan" -- until Taliban militants this year pushed into towns and villages in a bid to enforce sharia law.

It is not just Swat that has been hit by insurgents -- more than 2,000 people have been killed in Taliban-linked attacks across Pakistan in the last two years, scaring away all but the most intrepid foreign tourists.

Pakistan earned 16 billion rupees (200 million dollars) from 800,000 visitors in 2007. Fewer than 400,000 visitors came in 2008, bringing in just eight billion rupees, and the numbers are expected to be even lower this year.

"Terrorism has really affected us a great deal," Tourism Minister Ataur Rehman told AFP.

"We have started our endeavours to attract tourists from the world over as the situation in Swat and other areas is stable now and will enable us to again make them attractive tourist zones," he said.

But the World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009 put Pakistan at 113 out of 130 countries, and officials say there is a long way to go until Swat is returned to its former glory.

Until then, tourists are likely to turn to the countries that have already put their conflicts behind them, to sample the new temptations on offer.

Dark days of Khmer Rouge business documented

Photo by: Sovan Philong

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:02 Sovann Philong

Chhun Lim, director of the National Archives, sits Tuesday among more than 100,000 pages of Khmer Rouge trade documents that have been put on public display for the first time. The documents relate to Cambodia’s trade with China during the reign of Pol Pot.

Rising waters

Photo by: Sovan Philong

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:05 administrator

Beb, 3, defies the floodwater encroaching on his Chhbar Ampov commune home in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. The severe storms that have been lashing Cambodia for the past few weeks have so far killed nine people, destroyed 28,949 hectares of rice and damaged 13,638 homes, according to the National Disaster Committee.

Politicians lock horns at democracy event

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:05 Meas Sokchea

SRP president fires verbal attack as elites gather to discuss democratic progress.

OPPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy launched a series of sarcastic oral salvoes at the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Tuesday, as Cambodia’s political elite gathered to mark the second annual International Day of Democracy and promote political tolerance in the Kingdom.

Diplomats, human rights activists and members of five political parties came together for a parliamentary seminar at the National Assembly, focusing on the challenges of democratic consolidation.

But in a speech at the beginning of the daylong event, the Sam Rainsy Party president questioned the depth of the government’s commitment to democratic principles.

“I would like to take this opportunity to praise the government and the ruling party for trying to construct a picture of democracy. The ruling party has succeeded in building a picture of democracy,” he said.

He said that the “picture” painted by the ruling CPP had deceived some observers into thinking that since Cambodia had an elected parliament, it was fully democratic, adding that the Assembly was no more than a “rubber stamp” for the policy of senior government officials.

“If it is just a rubber-stamp parliament, this is not a democracy,” he said.

Sam Rainsy also offered sarcastic praise to the government, congratulating it for moving on from assassinating its opponents to merely using the courts to jail and silence them.

“It is better than before. It is not killing. Before, when I led a demonstration in front of the Assembly, [people] were killed by grenades,” he said, referring to the 1997 grenade attack on a peaceful SRP protest outside the then-National Assembly building on Sothearos Boulevard.

“But now that they’ve stopped killing, they just sue [critics] in the court or strip our [parliamentary] immunity to imprison us or force us to pay fines.”

This year, SRP lawmakers Ho Vann and Mu Sochua were stripped of their legal immunity in connection with lawsuits filed against them by senior government officials.

“It is better than killing, I recognise,” Sam Rainsy added.

CPP officials speaking at the event dismissed Sam Rainsy’s barbed comments, defending the government’s democratic behaviour since the first UN-backed elections in 1993.

“If we speak about democracy, we speak about the full freedom of people to choose their representative leaders. Cambodia has enforced this policy since 1993,” said CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun.

He said that the CPP’s success in the 2008 national elections – in which it won 90 of the National Assembly’s 123 seats – showed that Cambodians had a “mature” understanding of politics and democracy.

“All this shows that the concerns of … opposition party leader Sam Rainsy are maybe not correct,” he said.

In his speech, Chheang Vun also appealed to both international and national organisations not to drag the issue of human rights into partisan politics and use it to attack the government.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, who attended the ceremony, said that the proceedings demonstrated a wide contrast in views and a positive step forward for freedom of expression and open debate.

“I think that when speaking of political tolerance today, we should take this chance to show tolerance, so that even if we debate each other, we can do so in a friendly manner,” he said, adding that politicians on both sides had made valid points during the seminar.

Govt seeks answers in teenager’s burning

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:05 Thet Sambath

THE Cambodian government has formally approached Thailand to demand an explanation for the death of a teenager allegedly shot and burned alive by Thai soldiers.

In a strongly worded letter sent Tuesday to the Royal Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the death of Yon Rith, 16, an “act of cruelty” that breaks international law.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia considers these reported acts as a serious breach of internationally accepted humanitarian principle, which should not be committed by any agent of a civilised state,” read the letter, according to a copy obtained Tuesday.

“Cambodia requests the authorities concerned in Thailand to take appropriate measures to prevent such atrocities from happening again,” it continued.

It is the first time the national government has officially weighed in on the death of the Oddar Meanchey province teenager, who was killed last week.

Provincial officials say Yon Rith and Mao Kleung, 18, were shot and “badly wounded” last Friday when they were allegedly caught logging illegally along the disputed Cambodia-Thailand border.

Mao Kleung escaped, but Oddar Meanchey officials claim Thai soldiers captured Yon Rith and burned him alive.

The boy’s father, Saing Yon, told the Post on Monday that he believed his son had been bound with rope to an ox cart before he was set alight.

Human rights activists Tuesday compared the Thai soldiers’ alleged actions to those of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

“They burned this man alive, just as Adolf Hitler did during World War II,” said Ny Chakrya, head of the investigation section of human rights group Adhoc. “This is an act of hatred that will be condemned by the international community.” The organisation is now planning its own probe into the death, he said.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, called on the Cambodian government to launch a formal complaint with other neighbouring countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“The government should complain to ASEAN members and take legal action to prevent this from happening again,” Am Sam Ath said.

On Monday, the victim’s father vowed revenge and said he had no doubts that his son had been deliberately burned to death by Thai troops. “I will remember this, and I want revenge on the Thai soldiers, but I won’t tell anyone what I will do to them,” he said.

The scandal follows the arrest of several Cambodians accused of illegal logging in Thailand last month.

The 12 men, currently being detained in a Thai prison, were due to be visited by relatives in Thailand today, said Touch Ra, deputy chief of the Cambodia-Thailand Relations Office at the Chom International Border Gate. A further 16 men arrested in July along the Oddar Meanchey border in similar circumstances are still awaiting trial in Thailand.

Neither the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh would comment on Tuesday.

Duch’s family ‘tragedy’

Photo by: Robbie Corey-Boulet
Christopher LaPel, 51, Duch’s pastor, testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:05 Robbie Corey Boulet

S-21 chief describes arrest and execution of brother-in-law.

TUOL Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, said Tuesday that fear of punishment from Khmer Rouge leaders prompted him to implement an order that led to the detention, interrogation, torture and execution of his own brother-in-law.

The brother-in-law, who married one of Duch’s younger sisters, was deputy chief of the security office in Kampong Thom province when Central Zone Secretary Kae Pok arrested him in 1977. Through a prison guard, the brother-in-law sent a secret letter to Duch in Phnom Penh saying he had been detained and was suffering from dysentery.

Duch promptly sent the letter to his superior, Son Sen. The brother-in-law and his family were then allowed to travel to the capital.

Duch said that, when they arrived, “they were not tied or anything, and they were happy, and they thought they were out of trouble already”.

But a few months later, Son Sen informed Duch that the brother-in-law was to be interrogated.

“I knew that I was asked to arrest my brother-in-law, shackle him, interrogate him and smash,” Duch told the court. “But I did not do that. I made him write his confession without being shackled.”

Son Sen reprimanded Duch for breaking with standard procedure, telling him it was “dangerous” to behave “as a human being”, Duch said.

Duch testified that he decided to go through with the arrest after concluding that the brother-in-law posed a threat to his family.

“If I kept him alive, then I would be in danger and the whole family would be gone. So I had him arrested, shackled, interrogated and tortured,” he said.

Another brother-in-law was arrested and executed elsewhere during the regime, and a third died while fleeing Phnom Penh in 1979. Duch said he also lost two sisters and six nieces and nephews to the Khmer Rouge and described the deaths as “the tragedy that has been inflicted on my family”.

Duch’s pastor testifies
Earlier in the day, the tribunal heard from Christopher LaPel, Duch’s pastor, who described him as a “a man of God” with a “serving heart” who was eager “to share God’s love with others”.

LaPel, 51, said he met Duch in December 1995 when the former prison chief, then going by the name Hang Pin, began attending worship services in Battambang province.

The pastor said he only learned Duch’s real name when an Associated Press reporter contacted him in April 1999 for a story on the former prison chief.

“That was a surprise for me,” LaPel said, though he added that it was evidence of God’s ability to change someone “from the killer to the believer”.

LaPel, a character witness appearing for the defence, said he had no trouble forgiving Duch despite the fact that he lost family members to the Khmer Rouge as well as close friends who were sent to Tuol Sleng.

“When I met Duch in June 2008, I told him that I love him and I forgive him for what he had done to my parents, my brothers, my sister and my close friends at S-21,” he said. “I speak for myself – as a Christian, as a believer in Jesus Christ.”

Rains take heavy toll: govt report

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:04 Tep Nimol

Extent of damage from deluge still unknown.

NEARLY 29,000 hectares of crops were damaged and more than 13,600 homes flooded across the country by heavy rainfall during the past 10 days, the National Committee for Disaster Management has said.

Torrential rains that began on September 4 hit hardest in Kampong Thom, Kampot, Kratie and Ratanakkiri provinces, killing at least nine people, including several children, in floods, according to a report by the committee’s Department for Information and Communication released Monday.

The monetary losses incurred from the destruction and subsequent cleanup have yet to be calculated, the report said.

“This year’s rainfall has been heavier than in previous years; for instance, Kratie was flooded twice,” said department Deputy Director Keo Vy.

Officials said that at least two districts in Phnom Penh remain flooded, and that standing water was still affecting three districts in Kampong Thom – the province worst-hit by the rains, where some 7,500 hectares of rice fields were destroyed.

Preah Vihear province was also badly affected, Keo Vy said, adding, however, that the committee has yet to receive a damage report from that province.

But the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology said Monday that water levels in the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers had been dropping despite the still-daily rains that have also been decreasing measurably.

The Tonle Bassac-Chaktomuk weather station in Phnom Penh reported that daily rainfall levels in the capital were still at 20.3mm.

Monk accused of biting spree

Photo by: DAP
Kiet Chan Thouch, 76, an adviser to Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, has been accused of biting his fellow monks and nuns during a drunken rampage in Preah Sihanouk’s main pagoda during the weekend.


Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:04 May Titthara

Fellow monks say prominant colleague repeatedly attacked them in the course of a boozy weekend bender; Preah Sihanouk officials say they will investigate.

APROMINENT monk who acts as an adviser to Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong could be defrocked, provincial officials said Tuesday, after he was accused by fellow monks of getting drunk and biting them.

Kiet Chan Thouch, chief monk at Wat Leu, Preah Sihanouk province’s main pagoda, is alleged to have attacked his colleagues over the weekend.

Koa Suon, a 76-year-old monk in the same temple, said Kiet Chan Thouch bit him after becoming intoxicated.

“Kiet Chan Thouch got drunk and ordered me to come out of my room, otherwise he would shoot me and lock me in the room forever,” Koa Suon said.

He said that Kiet Chan Thouch fought with four monks, two clergymen and a nun during a 48-hour bender spanning Friday and Saturday.

The incident scared Koa Suon so much, he said, that he has now left the pagoda.

“For my own safety, I must run away from the pagoda,” he said.

“All the monks in this pagoda dare not confront him because he is a powerful monk.”

A Wat Leu clergyman claimed he was also attacked.

“He took an umbrella to fight me,” Ken Pen said. “It made a lot of monks and nuns run away from the dining hall.”

Ken Pen said the alleged rowdy behaviour should be grounds for punishment.

“This monk always causes problems for monks and nuns when he gets drunk,” Ken Pen said. “He should be defrocked. It’s a bad reflection on the Buddhist religion.”

Kiet Chan Thouch refused to comment on the allegations when contacted by the Post Tuesday. He said he was angry that the accusations were published in a local newspaper.

“I don’t want to speak with journalists,” he said.

The provincial chief of the Department of Cults and Religion, Kang Dinath, said the alleged victims had yet to file official complaints.

“We will investigate,” he added. “If the rumours are true, he could be defrocked because monks are not allowed to drink wine.”

The provincial chief monk, Muo Rorn, said it was the first he had heard of the alleged attacks. “If it really happened, it’s our duty to send the case to Phnom Penh,” he said.

Non Nget, vice supreme patriarch of the Mohanikay order, confirmed that monks are prohibited from drinking alcohol – and, indeed, biting people.

“If monks are found to drink wine or bite people, they must be defrocked because they are breaking Buddhist rules,” Non Nget said, emphasising that the allegations are still unproven.

“It might be that other people are jealous of him and want to accuse him,” Non Nget said.

Govt criticises Mu Sochua’s US testimony

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:04 Irwin Loy and Cheang Sokha

THE government has issued a statement condemning last week’s US congressional hearing on human rights in Cambodia.

The statement, released Tuesday, focused especially on Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua, who told the Washington hearing on Thursday that Cambodian democracy is “experiencing an alarming free fall”.

In its statement, the government responded, “[The Cambodian government] totally reject[s] any unfounded accusations made by Mu Sochua.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen, the statement continued, “has always enhanced the reputation and honour of the National Assembly at national and international levels and promoted debates in the adoption of laws without prejudice”.

It also slammed the US Congress for not inviting Cambodian government officials to testify, warning that the move could relations with the US.

“A hearing with only a small group from the opposition is not balanced and does not respect the principles of democracy and fairness,” the statement read. “Such an activity will affect Cambodia-America relation[s].”

The two-page statement finished with a defence of the country’s record on human rights.

“[The Cambodian government is] very proud to note that Cambodia … is making progress in all fields, especially in the areas of human rights and democracy.”

During her testimony, Mu Sochua called for visa sanctions on officials suspected of corruption and the suspension of US aid to Cambodia’s Ministry of Defence. She is currently travelling in the US but plans to return to Cambodia on September 23.

US reports on child labour fail to reflect improvements, govt says

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:04 Chhay Channyda and James O’toole

TWO reports released on child labour by the US government last week fail to accurately portray conditions in Cambodia, the head of the government’s human rights committee said Tuesday.

A pair of studies released last Thursday by the US Department of Labour’s Bureau of International Labour Affairs (ILAB) cited the Kingdom as one of dozens of countries in which particularly hazardous forms of child labour, known as “worst forms”, are prevalent.

While it praised the government for making progress against child labour, ILAB also voiced criticisms of the Cambodian judicial system.

Om Yinteang, the rights committee head and an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told the Post that while he welcomed investigations into Cambodian labour conditions, he did not believe that US researchers had depicted Cambodia’s fight against child labour fairly.

“Those who wrote this report should have come to Cambodia to investigate more deeply,” he said.

While allowing that there are small numbers of Cambodian children who are being exploited, Om Yinteang said that the government has done much to reduce this total that was not properly reflected by ILAB.

“We welcome all kinds of criticism, but it should be constructive criticism,” he said.

Joseph Menacherry, the chief technical adviser at the International Labour Organisation’s International Progamme on the Elimination of Child Labour, said that because ILAB’s data came from extrapolations of surveys conducted earlier this decade, more recent government successes against the worst forms of child labour may not have been accurately reflected.

“When we talk of efforts that the government has put in, we’re really talking about the efforts since 2006,” he said.

The ILO hopes to conduct a survey soon to update the information on child labour, Menacherry said, but he added that in the meantime, it is important not to lose sight of the gains that have been made.

“This country has done a great deal on child labour; it’s really gone out of the way to focus on this issue,” he said.

Committee aims to set council members’ pay

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:04 Kim Yuthana

The National Committee for Sub-national Democratic Development (NCDD) met Tuesday to discuss salaries for members of the capital, provincial, municipal and district councils.

A draft sub-decree would give a 1 million riel (US$241) monthly pay cheque to the heads of capital and provincial councils. Other members would receive 800,000 riels every month.

The heads of municipal and district councils would earn 700,000 riels a month, whereas other members would take home 500,000 riels.

Sak Setha, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the sub-decree is aimed at encouraging councils to serve their citizens and enforce the law. Officials have worked without payment since being installed in May 2008.

Prak Channa, chairman of the Russey Keo district council, said he would be happy if the subdecree were approved.

“I believe that 700,000 riels payment will be enough to support my family and will be a big relief to me,” he said.

SRP parliamentarian Yim Sovann urged officials to serve the government and citizens without discrimination or corruption either way.

Prime Minister Hun Sen must give the sub-decree his approval before it takes effect. Officials with the NCDD said they did not know when the sub-decree would be submitted to the prime minister.

Climate crisis threatens poor

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Khem Yeth, 28, a rice farmer in Takeo province sits in a dried-out paddy last year.


Cambodia’s forests are integral to the future of the Kingdom, senior forestry officials said Tuesday during the start of the final public consultation into a programme intended to reduce deforestation. Ty Sokhun, director of the Forestry Administration, said: “Forests are the source of the living earth. In Cambodia, forest has provided 6.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to reduce human poverty.” Forests cover more than 59 percent of Cambodia, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). But though the government aims to reach 60 percent by 2015, critics say that figure has been overblown, and that rampant illegal logging continues. “We have planted more than 850,000 hectares of trees and given millions of trees seedlings to the people for planting,” Ty Sokhun said. “We also cracked down on thousands of cases of illegal logging and sent many illegal loggers to court.” With deforestation historically a significant problem in Cambodia, the government established the NFP in 2007 with the help of international aid agencies to reverse the trend. The government expects to finalise the National Forest Programme by the end of the year.


Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:04 James O'Toole

A World Bank report argues that, without urgent action on climate change, Cambodia and other developing nations will be imperiled within a decade.

CLIMATE change could slash agricultural productivity and make famine and natural disaster commonplace across the developing world without urgent action within the next decade, climate experts from the World Bank warned Tuesday.

Though they produce only a small fraction of the world’s total carbon emissions, Cambodia and other nations in the developing world will be disproportionately affected by the warming temperatures and rising sea levels brought on by climate change, a panel of World Bank representatives told reporters in a teleconference from the US.

The teleconference coincided with Tuesday’s release of a World Bank publication titled “World Development Report (WDR) 2010: Development and Climate Change”. Climate change puts poor countries like Cambodia in a difficult position, the panellists said, because despite their tiny contribution to the world’s total carbon emissions, they will be most severely harmed in the absence of coordinated, worldwide reforms.

Poor countries typically lack the capacity to manage the fallout from climate change and also “depend more directly on climate-sensitive natural resources for income and well-being,” the WDR report said.

Any efforts to avert climate change, therefore, “[have] to start with high-income countries taking aggressive action to reduce their own emissions”.

Developing nations, though, will be major sources of emissions growth in the near future, and risk falling further behind developed countries economically if they are unable to transition to clean energy sources, the World Bank report added.

Developed countries, it argued, must provide assistance to aid poorer nations in climate-change mitigation efforts.

Justin Lin, the World Bank’s senior vice president for development economics, noted the importance of such assistance, emphasising that developing nations must not be forced to choose between climate-change mitigation and economic growth.

“I would encourage Cambodia to look into the possibility of funding and also technological assistance in order to pursue its economic development and at the same time to achieve the goal of reduced emissions,” he said.

But for this option to be realistic worldwide, donor countries must massively increase their funding. Currently, there is less than US$1 billion available for climate-change mitigation efforts in the developing world, in contrast to the $75 billion that may be necessary, the WDR report said.

Though national budgets around the world have been stretched thin by the global financial crisis, Rosina Bierbaum, the WDR co-director, said that developed-world policymakers should think seriously about this funding shortfall. “We can’t really argue that stopping climate change is not affordable,” she said. “Indeed, we can’t afford not to do it.”

Police urge public to cooperate

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:03 Khoun Leakhana

Tip-offs have led to rise in arrests, officials say.

POLICE have urged Phnom Penh residents to cooperate more closely with authorities following a spate of arrests of suspected robbers that they said were the result of tip-offs from the public.

A total of 18 suspects in armed robberies of gold merchants and banks have been nabbed this month, police said, adding the three most recent arrests – made last week – were initiated by suspicious residents.

“The residents saw the suspects carrying guns,” Phnom Penh Police Deputy Chief Pol Pithey said Tuesday.

“Then they reported this to the police, and we promptly launched an investigation that collected enough evidence to arrest the suspects,” he added.

The three, who are suspected of robbing gold vendors in Prek Leap commune, were paraded before television cameras during a press conference Monday, where police said they would increase patrols and rely more on input from the public.

“We will continue to hunt for more robbers based on information we get by interrogating these ones,” Pol Pithey said.

Reported robberies decreased nationwide in the first half of 2009, compared with the same period in 2008, National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said last week.

Some 238 cases were reported through June this year, compared with 278 last year, he said, attributing the drop to improved cooperation between the police and the public.

More police officers are now being deployed in public areas and markets to act as a deterrents to would-be robbers, he added.

Adhoc activist, reporter receive lawsuit threat from R’kiri judge

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

But UN rights office calls for an end to intimidation campaign by officials.

A RATANAKKIRI provincial judge has warned that rights activist Pen Bonnar and journalist Ratha Visal could face disinformation charges relating to a land dispute in the province, a day after the UN’s human rights office called for the government to end its “harassment” of rights activists in the province.

Presiding Judge Thor Saron told the Post on Tuesday that the two men could be charged with disinformation for allegedly accusing him of corruption.

Thor Saron said the two men have accused him of offering to release detained villagers in exchange for a large tract of land in Ratanakkiri, but did not say where or when the comments were made.

“These two men will face another charge of disinformation for accusing me of being a corrupt man and of [promising to] release those accused in return for 70 hectares of land, which is now being investigated by provincial authorities to find out the truth,” he said.

Pen Bonnar, the provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc, has already been warned that he faces incitement charges in connection with a protest over a separate land dispute in November 2007 but has not yet been formally charged by the court.

Ratha Visal also came under similar pressure from the court after covering the Pen Bonnar affair for Radio Free Asia.

In a strongly worded statement released on Monday, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights requested an end to the prosecution of Pen Bonnar and Ratha Visal.

It said that the two had been “harassed and intimidated by both provincial authorities and the court in relation to their tireless struggle to defend the rights of communities dispossessed of their land and livelihoods in the northeastern province”.

“The office reiterates its earlier call on provincial authorities to cease continued harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in the province,” the statement said.

French national found guilty

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
French national Jacques Bernard Rene Collinet, 61, leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday after being convicted of purchasing child prostitution.


Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

But the 1-year sentence imposed by the court has some anti-paedophile activists concerned that punishments for those who sexually abuse children are too lenient.

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court convicted a French national of having sex with a 16-year-old Cambodian girl during a hearing Tuesday, sentencing him to three years’ jail and ordering him to pay 2 million riels (US$481) in compensation to the mother of the victim.

But Jacques Bernard Rene Collinet, 61, is to serve only a single year in prison after presiding judge Chhay Kong suspended the remainder of his sentence, drawing complaints from local anti-paedophilia activists about the lightness of the punishment.

Collinet was arrested April 12 in Daun Penh district’s Kandal II commune and charged with purchasing child prostitution. Collinet denied the charges during a public hearing on September 9, saying he only paid the girl for a massage and was physically unable to have sex with her due to a medical condition, alibis the judge rejected for lack of evidence.

Samleang Seila, country director of Action Pour Les Enfants, an anti-paedophile NGO, told the Post after the verdict that the conviction was a positive sign, but that the group would appeal the length of the sentence.

“It was a very light sentence for the man to receive only one year in prison,” he said.

“We have prepared this week to appeal the light conviction, calling for a more severe conviction against the man to stand as a warning for other sex tourists, who may think that purchasing child prostitution in Cambodia is not prosecuted [harshly].”

During last week’s hearing, Judge Chhay Kong also strongly rejected an accusation by Collinet’s defence lawyer Dun Vibol that his client was the victim of a conspiracy between anti-paedophile NGOS, NGO shelters and police, who had ganged up to “prosecute foreigners to earn money”.

The judge described the accusation as “confusing” and lacking any credible evidence.

Samleang Seila said the accusations of a conspiracy to extort foreigners were “not only untrue but also an insult”.

Twisted path to justice
The conviction comes in the midst of Twisted Traveler, an US law enforcement operation targeting Americans who travel to Cambodia to have sex with children. As a Frenchman, Collinet would not qualify.

Under the US programme – which saw four American nationals charged in the US this month – offenders will face child sex charges under US law, which calls for sentences of up to 30 years.

US Ambassador Carol Rodley said September 1 that the harsher penalties mandated under American law would be a “powerful deterrent” to sex tourism.

“These new charges clearly demonstrate to the Cambodian people that the United States will not tolerate this type of abuse,” she said.

‘Best Youth’ finale set to air tonight on CTN

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:02 Chhay Channyda

TWO finalists in Cambodia’s Youth Leadership Challenge will square off tonight in a televised debate on CTN for the chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the United States, organisers said at a press conference Tuesday.

In its sixth season, the challenge – more commonly known as “Best Youth” – is organised by the Youth Council of Cambodia and the International Republican Institute (IRI), with funding from USAID.

The debate, which airs from 5:45pm to 6:45pm, pits contestants Te Sivann, 23, from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, against Seng Virak, 24, of the Royal University of Law and Economics – the last of a field of eight participants that began the challenge in July.

“The [Best Youth] programme is a way to promote leadership among youth,” said John Willis, country director for IRI, at the press conference.

Also attending the press conference, Seng Virak said education is essential to helping young people develop leadership skills, while Te Sivann said sexual abuse, child labour and drug use all hindered development within the Kingdom.

Thai civil court throws out suit on Preah Vihear ‘rights’

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:02 Vong Sokheng

Meanwhile, officials say a planned nationalist protest near Preah Vihear this weekend will not be allowed to encroach on Cambodian territory.

THAILAND’S Civil Court has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a group of Thai academics accusing senior Cambodian government officials of “abusing the rights” of the Thai people in their continuing spat over Preah Vihear temple.

The suit, lodged by academic Thepmontri Limpaphayom and eight other Thai scholars, accused Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, his deputy Sok An and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong of violating the Thai people’s rights and liberties under the Thai constitution by encroaching on Preah Vihear temple and the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area around the temple ruins.

The suit also requested that the court order Cambodia to withdraw its troops from the area.

The Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday that the court had rejected the suit, citing the court’s opinion that the issue was a dispute between two countries over the sovereignty of the area and was not a matter for a civil court.

Koy Kuong, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday that he was not aware of the lawsuit, but that the outcome was not a surprise.

“I do not know, but I think that if the court rejected the suit, it means that the group of Thai academics did something wrong,” he said.

Protest threat
The rejection of the lawsuit comes as members of the yellow-shirted Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy (PAD) prepare to travel to Preah Vihear temple on Saturday to protest against its July 2008 listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and demand its “return” to Thailand.

Cambodian Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said Thai troops stationed in front of Preah Vihear temple confirmed that PAD plans to call a rally this week to demand the removal of Cambodian troops and communities from the area but said the Thais had promised the protesters would not be allowed into disputed areas.

“I met with the Thai troops in front of the Preah Vihear temple, and they told me that they would not allow the Thai protesters to enter the area near Preah Vihear temple, and they told us not to worry,” he said.

He said that Cambodian border troops would not be careless because of suspicions the protesters could include extremists who might try to provoke a fight.

“We have no intention of an armed conflict that would affect the good relationship between the two countries, but we have to prepare a strategy for preventing encroachments, and we [warn] any protester [against trying] to violate the sovereignty of Cambodian territory,” Chhum Socheat said.

Meanwhile, Thai officials have disavowed any links with the PAD protesters, saying the protest would be “not helpful” to the resolution of the border dispute.

“I don’t know what the PAD’s intentions are. They can gather and express their feelings, but they should be careful of being at odds with the Cambodian side,” the Bangkok Post quoted Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban as saying.

“Everyone loves their country, and I would like everyone not to exacerbate the situation.”

Koy Kuong confirmed that the Thai government had expressed its commitment not to support the rally.

“I think that the Thai government will have the political will to prevent the rally from happening on Cambodian territory,” he said.

Mitsui delivers bid for disputed offshore area

Mitsui Oil Exploration Co met Tuesday with Prime Minister Hun Sen, shown above at a September 7 conference, to make an official application for overlapping offshore concession Area IV.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:01 Cheang Sokha

Tokyo-based exploration company meets with Hun Sen after submitting application for rights to Area IV in Gulf of Thailand

JAPANESE oil and gas company Mitsui Oil Exploration Co submitted an application Tuesday to Prime Minister Hun Sen for exploration rights in an overlapping offshore area in the Gulf of Thailand, the prime minister’s spokesman said.

Ieng Sophalleth said Mitsui Chairman Yoshiyuki Kagawa led a company delegation at a meeting in Phnom Penh that applied for Cambodia’s Area IV off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province.

“Yoshiyuki Kagawa told Hun Sen that the company had already submitted its proposed documents to the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA) in bidding for oil and gas in offshore Area IV,” said Ieng Sophalleth, adding that the prime minister welcomed the plan and highlighting the need for transparency in the bidding process.

The application follows bids submitted to CNPA late last month by two other Japanese companies – Inpec and Marubeni Oil and Gas – for oil and gas rights in Cambodia. However, the blocks targeted are not known.

Area IV lies at the southern end of an offshore area that remains at the centre of a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.

In June 2001, the two sides agreed that the zone would be part of a joint-development agreement, meaning the countries would share revenues from its production should marketable energy supplies be found in the area. However, both sides have yet to agree the percentage split on revenues despite years of on-off negotiations.

Phnom Penh has not yet awarded Area IV; however, Bangkok has already done so: Thailand’s state-owned energy company PTTEP has signed a deal on the eastern section, and Mistui and Chevron hold rights to the remaining western part. The Japanese company has been given a 20 percent stake by Thailand in what Bangkok terms blocks B12A, B12B and B13.

Mitsui – under its local name Mitsui Cambodia Co – holds a 30 percent stake in offshore Block A, a Cambodian concession led by Chevron that lies adjacent to the disputed area. The Tokyo-based company also has operations in neighbouring Vietnam.

Mitsui’s move for Area IV comes despite a continuing delay in the signing of the Area III concession between French energy giant Total and the Cambodian government.

Also in the overlapping area, the Total block was supposed to be signed over following a verbal agreement with Hun Sen in Paris in mid-July.

However, the deal has still not been signed, as both sides are trying to work out contractual differences in a deal that would also see the company sign an agreement for onshore Block 26.

Inflation slows to 0.7 percent in August

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:01 Steve Finch

INFLATION in Cambodia continued to slow in August as the consumer price index (CPI) rose just 0.7 percent on the previous month, according to official figures obtained Tuesday.

The CPI data for August compares with a 1.5 percent rise in CPI from June to July and a 1.8 percent increase from May to June, suggesting that inflationary pressure in the Cambodian economy is waning.

August saw a 2.9 percent fall in prices year on year compared with the same month in 2008, when inflation was running at more than 20 percent, marking the sixth consecutive month of annualised deflation.

“Cambodia will experience a year of deflation in 2009, in stark contrast to the record pace of inflation of 25 percent that was recorded in 2008,” the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said in its September outlook for Cambodia.

Prices for petrol fell 25.4 percent in August year-on-year, the data showed, while natural gas was down 37.5 percent and telephone and fax equipment fell 25.4 percent, among the largest decreases among the products included in the figures.

Price rises for fish and seafood were the largest contributing factor to the month-on-month price rise, which climbed 2.7 percent.

The EIU has forecast 2.1 percent year-on-year deflation for Cambodia in 2009, with inflation expected to resume in 2010.

“Inflation will return in 2010 in response to a renewed build-up of demand-side pressures as economic growth begins to recover and global commodity prices edge higher,” it said in September's report.

State-owned enterprises say govt ordered them to list at new bourse

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:00 Nguon Sovan

Three firms say they received letters from the Finance Ministry in May telling them to prepare to list on the Cambodia Stock Exchange, but that the listing will be of little benefit to operations

THREE state-owned enterprises confirmed Tuesday they have been instructed by the government to list on the Cambodia Stock Exchange but said that they would do so only reluctantly.

Telecom Cambodia Director General Lao Sareoun said he was worried the listing would interfere with the state-owned telco’s business operations, as it lacked the human resources needed to prepare an initial public offering.

“This is a new venture, so it needs human resources,” he said. “But we do not have any experience at all in this field, so we are worried that it will be an inconvenience to our business operations, which are growing well at the moment.”

He said the company met listing requirements in terms of financial performance and governance transparency, but warned that it may not be ready to list until the end of next year due to human resource constraints, despite assistance from the Ministry of Finance.

Ministry of Finance officials have said they want to open the exchange by the end of this year, but have acknowledged that the launch would depend on the readiness of the three state-owned enterprises earmarked to be the first to join. They originally planned to launch the exchange on September 9.

No benefit
The other enterprises slated to list when the exchange commences operations are Sihanoukville Autonomous Port and the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA).

PPWSA Director General Ek Sonn Chan said all three firms received letters in May from the Finance Ministry instructing them to prepare for a listing. However, he said the PPWSA did not need to raise money, meaning its participation would only be to assist in the successful functioning of the bourse.

“The government wants us to join, so we will join,” he said. “It is not my idea, but the idea of the government, and PPWSA is a government entity so we must abide by the government’s decision.”

Sihanoukville Autonomous Port CEO Lou Kim Chhun said the port was adopting international accounting standards under instruction from the Finance Ministry, but that the listing was purely an initiative of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.

He said the port had reduced expenses in order to make revenues go further and said the business was healthy ahead of the listing.

“By the end of this year, the improvements in both our accounting standards and our business health will be in place, and both will be internationally recognised,” he said.

Ek Sonn Chan said PPWSA’s accounting and financial reports had been audited by an international auditing firm, and that its governance and management were of a high enough standard to satisfy listing requirements.

He said the government still planned a “soft opening” of the exchange this year, “probably in October”, but said real operations would not commence until a year after the soft opening

Govt tax revenues up 9pc in August to $56m

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:00 May Kunmakara

GOVERNMENT tax revenues climbed nearly 9 percent in August, an official at the General Department of Customs and Excise said Tuesday.

The civil servant, who declined to be named, said August tax income reached US$56 million last month, up from $51.4 million in July.

“During the month [of August], our revenues were mostly from imports – especially from vehicle imports. On exports, we did not make much,” he said, adding that the economic crisis had hurt Cambodian trade.

Stricter enforcement has resulted in most of the gains, according to government officials. In a bid to increase revenues, the government says it has clamped down on certain sectors of the economy that had previously avoided tax.

“We are still trying our best to collect taxes to raise revenues, especially following the prime minister’s order to collect tax on motorbikes and other vehicles which have been imported without paying tax,” the customs and excise official said.

Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon has previously told the Post that the government is aiming for yearly tax revenues of US$500 million for 2009, which would represent a 25 percent increase on last year’s $400 million.

Weaving a more traditional way of life

Photo by: SOEUN SAY
Silk weavers ply their trade at Oum Yorn’s business in Samrong district, Takeo province.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:00 Soeun Say

Workers find silk industry in the countryside more palatable than the city, but the crisis is still biting

Takeo Province

AS work becomes scarcer in Cambodian cities and salaries fall due to the economic slump, some unskilled labourers are returning home to take up employment in the traditional Cambodian handicraft of silk weaving.

Srey Pov, 18, left her job at a Phnom Penh garment factory when her overtime was cut and her salary dropped to just US$45 a month. After paying for food and rent, she had nothing left to send to her family, so she returned home.

She found a job with Oum Yorn, the owner of Chiso Silk Weaving, a small enterprise in Sla commune, in Takeo province’s Samrong district.

There she still earns only $45 a month, but the rural setting allows her to save $35.

Pleasant working life
As an added bonus, she says, she enjoys the work and the lifestyle.

“I had no freedom when I worked in the garment factory,” she said. “It is a good working environment here. I have no pressure from anyone, and my salary is the same as in the factory,” she said.

Her boss, Oum Yorn, is also an ex-city worker. He gave up his job as a construction worker in 2004 to return to his hometown to set up a business and capitalise on a growing interest in silk handicrafts.

“When I started to run the business, I thought it would be easy to make money because traditional Khmer handicrafts were showing great potential in domestic and international markets,” he said.

Like many businesses in Cambodia, the Phnom Penh market was key for the 55-year-old, who managed to find steady clients in the capital’s major markets. These stall owners in turn profited from a steady stream of tourists.

Oum Yorn also made a good trade at the nearby Phnom Chiso temple. “Over the last two years, a lot of tourists came to visit the ancient temple and bought our products.”

At its peak, the enterprise employed six weavers, but the success hadn’t lasted, he said.

“This year, fewer tourists have come here and if the tourists do not come, we cannot sell our products,” he said.

Oum Yorn estimates sales have halved since the middle of 2008, and he now employs only three weavers.

He has also noticed that consumers are tighter with their cash, preferring to buy lower-quality garments at cheaper prices, meaning demand for products made with Khmer Golden Silk, which is sourced from a silkworm only raised in Cambodia, has also dropped.

Sourcing from abroad
He now imports most of his raw silk from Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Imported silk is cheaper, he said, but vastly inferior.

“Khmer silk is more expensive than Vietnam silk, but it is much better quality. Unfortunately, I cannot buy it to make cloth because we cannot get a good price from our clients, not like last year and 2007.”

Oum Yorn said he was looking for a boost in sales over the Pchum Ben festival but was counting on a recovery of the silk sector for his long-term survival.

This depends in part on government efforts to help the sector develop new international markets for high-quality traditional Khmer handicrafts, he said: “I want the Cambodian government and NGOs to help us silk manufacturers by looking for more markets, as the silk industry has been hit hard by the world economic crisis.”

“I will expand my business over the next two years if everything recovers.”

For workers like Srey Pov struggling in the cities, the survival and growth of the sector could provide a welcome employment option until more well-paying jobs return to the country’s factories.